MySQL contributors remain confused over Sun's Enterprise plans

The business model for MySQL is that someone, at some time, must pay for something. In this case, Enterprise users are Sun's paying customers; and at a conference this week, free users wondered again whether the other group is entitled to exclusive new features.

The debate over what paying MySQL customers should be entitled to that non-paying ones should not, re-ignited after comments made during a simple roadmap presentation at a MySQL conference in Santa Clara ruminated in attendees' minds for awhile, and then pointed to an otherwise obvious point: The features new MySQL parent Sun Microsystems intends to include in the commercial MySQL Enterprise edition will only be tested by paying customers, under what is probably a more common commercial beta testing system.

In a blog post Monday, long-time MySQL contributor Jeremy Cole called the revelation a "substantive change to their development model - previously they have been developing features in both MySQL Community and MySQL Enterprise. However, with a shift to offering some features only in MySQL Enterprise, this means a shift to development of those features occurring (and thus code being tested) only in MySQL Enterprise."

MySQL Community Server has been the edition made freely available under the GPL license, and many contributors have been under the impression that new features are first tested in the Community edition, perfected there, and then moved to the Enterprise edition when they're ready.

While Cole's interpretation may be technically accurate, that's not always how MySQL's two editions, available since 2006, have been presented to customers. This feature chart from MySQL, which is not a new one, clearly distinguishes the Enterprise edition from the Community edition with a second tier of "extensive internal/external testing," over and above what's provided by the "worldwide community."

Sun's intention with MySQL, for understandable reasons, is to make the Enterprise edition more feature complete. But Cole believes the result of that would be to drive a wedge between the two systems, such that a smaller customer base, representing the Enterprise subscribers, would be responsible for maintaining Enterprise's larger feature set.

That could pose a danger, he went on, in that the version being paid for may not be the version with the most extensive testing, at least by the community.

That provoked an online response from Marten Mickos, formerly MySQL's CEO and now senior vice president of Sun in charge of MySQL. "I appreciate your concern for our paying customers," Mickos wrote. "They are, after all, the ones who pay our salaries and allow us to produce more GPL software. They are also the ones we listen to when we decide what to develop for them, and how."

MySQL continues to prefer licensing projects to the community under the GPL license, Mickos continued, because his division believes it's the most appropriate public license. But that doesn't mean everything a company ever conceives should be open-sourced, he went on, citing examples such as InnoDB HotBackup and WebYog that were developed by the closed community of paying customers only, apparently with positive results.

But the most telling part of Mickos' response came in reference to the diverging feature sets, saying it's not really up to Sun or anyone else to tell contributors what they must leave out of the Community Edition. In other words, if the Enterprise edition is testing a feature that the Community Edition doesn't have, whose fault is that, really?

"If we happen to develop a feature that we ship only to our paying subscribers, there is nothing stopping others (including yourself) from producing the same effect with GPL code," remarked Mickos. "Specifically around backup, we are making sure that the core functionality is in the server so that anyone can build their own add-ons - as I am sure many will. That's the power of open source!"

In a repeat performance of last August, many open source outlets touted Cole's revelation -- without Mickos' response -- as an indication from Sun that the company is "closed-sourcing" the MySQL Enterprise edition. (Some may well wonder whether such sources are in any way familiar with the software.) In actuality, Sun came forth at that time with its plan to distribute source code for the Community edition among the broader community only using the GPL license.

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